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Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 20

The Pulpit CommentariesThe Pulpit Commentaries

Verses 1-23




1 Samuel 20:1

David fled from Naioth. While Saul was under the influence of the prophetic enthusiasm David escaped; but it is evident that this visit to Samuel, and the extraordinary occurrences which attended it, were not without, a good influence for the time upon Saul's mind. Some sort of reconciliation must have been patched up, probably by the mediation of Samuel; for David assumed that at the new moon be would be expected to dine at the king's table (1 Samuel 20:5), and that Saul would look for him as a matter of course (1 Samuel 20:6). We find, moreover, that his place was made ready, not only on the new moon (1 Samuel 20:25), but also on the following day (1 Samuel 20:26). But whatever professions Saul may have made to Samuel, it is evident that no promise had been made personally to David, and taught by past experience that the intention of slaying him had grown more and more fixed in the king's mind, he feels that his position is full of danger, and takes counsel with Jonathan, with the view of learning whether he might venture once again to take his place as a member of Saul s family.

1 Samuel 20:2

God forbid. An exclamation of horror; literally, "Far be it" (see on 1Sa 9:1-27 :45). In spite of the many proofs of Saul's bitter hatred, Jonathan cannot believe that after all that had taken place at Ramah his father would still persist in his murderous purpose. He further assures David that Saul would do nothing without telling him; literally, without uncovering his ear, without telling it him privately (see on 1 Samuel 9:15). The phrase is used again in 1 Samuel 20:12. For will do nothing the written text reads "has done for himself," which the Kri properly corrects. The rashness of Saul's temper, and his frank talk about killing David recorded in 1 Samuel 19:1, confirm Jonathan's statement about the openness of his father's ways, and he therefore assures David that he may take his place in safety.

1 Samuel 20:3, 1 Samuel 20:4

Thy father certainly knoweth, etc. Though Saul did not know the entireness of Jonathan's love for David, yet he was aware of the friendship that existed between them, and consequently might keep his purpose a secret from Jonathan, especially if he considered that his frankness in speaking openly to his son and servants on a previous occasion had led to David's escape. David, therefore, urges upon his friend a different course, to which he assents. But how are we to explain the entirely different views taken of Saul's conduct by the two. When David tells his fears Jonathan utters an exclamation of horror, and says, "Thou shalt not die." Yet he knew that his father had talked to him and his Officers about putting David to death; that he had tried to kill him with his own hand, and on his escape had set people to watch his house with orders to slay him; and on David's flight to the prophet had thrice sent emissaries to bring him away by force. The explanation probably lies in Saul s insanity. When he threw his javelin at David and during the subsequent proceed. ings he was out of his mind. The violent fit at Naioth had for the time cleared his reason, and he had come back sane. Jonathan regarded all that had taken place as the effect of a mind diseased, and concluded, therefore, that David might now return to his home and wife, and resume his duties and take his place at the royal table. Should the old craze come back about David being his rival and destined successor, Saul would be sure to talk about it, and then Jonathan would give him timely warning. But David was convinced that it was no craze, but that Saul, sane or insane, had determined upon his death.

1 Samuel 20:5-7

Tomorrow is the new moon. The first day of the new moon was a joyful festival, its appearance being greeted with the sounding of trumpets, and celebrated by a burnt offering and a sin offering. It was, moreover, kept by Saul as a family festival, at which David, as his son-in-law, was expected to be present. As, moreover, David was to hide unto the third day at even, counting from the time when he was arranging his plans with Jonathan, it is plain that it was the rule to prolong the feasting unto the second day. When then Jonathan, convinced by David's pleading, had consented to aid him in his own way, they arrange that he shall absent himself from this festival, and remain during it hidden out of sight. In case Saul missed him and asked the reason of his absence, Jonathan was to offer as an excuse for him that he had earnestly requested leave to pay a hurried visit to Bethlehem, in order to be present at an annual festival: and if Saul took the excuse in good part it would be a sign that he had no malicious purposes towards David, whereas if he fell into a rage it would be a proof of a settled evil design. A yearly sacrifice for all the family. For all the mishpachah, i.e. not for all Jesse's household, but for all that subdivision of the tribe of Judah to which Jesse belonged; for a tribe was divided into families, and these again into fathers' houses (Joshua 7:16, Joshua 7:17). The occasion would thus be a grand one. In 1 Samuel 16:2 we have an instance of a special sacrifice at Bethlehem, but this feast of the mishpachah was held every year; and evidently before the temple was built at Jerusalem these local sacrifices were the rule. We may well believe that there was such a festival, and that the fictitious part of Jonathan's story was that David had been summoned to it.

1 Samuel 20:8

Thou hast brought thy servant into a covenant of Jehovah with thee. As the friendship between Jonathan and David had been cemented by the invocation of the name of Jehovah, it was one firm and assured, and David might look not merely for one act of kindness, but for constant truth and help. It was, moreover, Jonathan's own doing; and yet, if there be in me, David says, iniquity, i.e. treason against Saul, if I have not been a faithful and true servant to him, but, on the contrary, have plotted evil against him, or now entertain any evil designs, then let the covenant be abrogated. David refuses to shelter himself under it if he has incurred guilt, and only asks that Jonathan, by the authority which he exercised as the king's son, should himself put him to death, and not deliver him up to Saul

1 Samuel 20:9

Far be it, the word rendered God forbid in 1 Samuel 20:2. It indignantly rejects the idea of David having committed any crime. The rest of the verse is an incomplete sentence: "If I knew certainly that evil were determined by my father to come upon thee, and did not tell thee—" These broken sentences have great force in the original, as signs of intense feeling (comp. Luke 19:42). We must complete the sentence mentally in some such way as the Syriac: "then Jehovah do so to me, and more also."

1 Samuel 20:10

Who shall tell me? or what if, etc. The if is an insertion of the A.V. Really David's question is very involved and ungrammatical, as was natural in his excited state. It may be translated, "Who will tell me (or, how shall I know) what rough answer thy father will give thee?" But some Jewish authorities render, "Who will tell me if so be that thy father give thee a rough answer?"

1 Samuel 20:11-13

Let us go out into the field. David's question had shown Jonathan that there were grave difficulties in their way, and so he proposes that they should walk into the country, to be able to talk with one another more freely, and concert measures for the future. And there Jonathan binds himself with a solemn oath, if Saul's intentions be good, to send a trusty messenger to inform David, but if there be danger, then to come and tell David himself. O Lord God. With a few MSS. we must supply the usual formula of an oath: "As Jehovah the God of Israel liveth." About tomorrow any time, or the third day. This cumbrous translation arose out of the mistaken idea that the word rendered tomorrow could only be used in that limited sense. Strictly it signifies the morning, and is applicable to any morrow. Jonathan fixes one time, and one only, and the passage should be rendered, "By this time on the third morrow." The meeting was to be on the morrow after the second day of the festival, and so on the third morrow after the conversation. The whole may be translated, "As Jehovah the God of Israel liveth, when by this time on the third morrow I have searched my father, and, behold, there be good for David, if then I send not to thee, and uncover thy ear, Jehovah do so and much more to Jonathan." The alternative case is then put, and if the news be evil, Jonathan undertakes himself to be the messenger, and David is to provide for his safety by flight. The concluding prayer that Jehovah might be with David as he had been with Saul contains the same presentiment of David attaining to great power and dignity which is more directly expressed in the following verses.

1 Samuel 20:14, 1 Samuel 20:15

The construction of this passage is very difficult if we retain the three negatives of the Masoretic text; but most commentators, following the reading of the Syriac as regards at least one of them, consider that the Masorites have been mistaken in the vowels which they have attached to the consonants (see on 1 Samuel 1:7). Read with other vowels, two of these negatives become interjections of desire—O that; and the whole may be translated, "And O that, while I still live, yea, O that thou wouldst show me the kindness of Jehovah,—i.e. great unfailing kindness, such as was that of Jehovah to Israel,—that I die not, nor shalt thou cut off thy kindness from my house forever." It was the sanguinary custom in the East on a change of dynasty to put all the seed royal to death. As then Jonathan foresaw that it was Jehovah's will to transfer the kingdom to David, he binds him by the memory of his own true love to him to show mercy to his race.

1 Samuel 20:16

This verse also is very difficult, hut it is probably to be taken as an insertion of the narrator: "So Jonathan made a covenant with the house of David"—that is, so as to bind his descendants—"saying, Let Jehovah require it at the hand of David's enemies." These last words probably are a euphemism, and mean David himself. So Rashi explains the words. The courtesy of an Oriental forbade his saying, May Jehovah punish David for it, but he prays that God would requite it on some one. But if the Divine anger visits even David's enemies for it, how much more the guilty perjurer himself.

1 Samuel 20:17

Jonathan caused David to swear again. So strong was his conviction in David's future kingdom, and his wish that there should be an unbroken bond of love between the two families, that he makes David solemnly repeat his promise. The Septuagint and Vulgate, by altering the vowels, read, "And Jonathan sware again to David." At first sight this interpretation seems most in accordance with the reason given for the renewal of the oath, namely, Jonathan's own love; but the Masoretic text agrees better with what has gone before, and with his wish that their covenant under no change of circumstances should be broken.

1 Samuel 20:18, 1 Samuel 20:19

Jonathan now arranges his plan for communicating the result to David. For when thou hast stayed three days, at which all the versions stumble, a slight alteration gives the right sense: "And on the third day." David on the third day was to go down quickly—Hebrew, "greatly, i.e. he was to go a long way down into the valley. The rendering quickly is taken from the Vulgate, but makes no sense. It did not matter whether David went fast or slow, as he was to hide there for some time, but it was important that David should be far away, so that no prying eye might chance to catch sight of him. When the business was in hand. Literally, "the day of the business," probably that narrated in 1 Samuel 19:2-7. The Septuagint, Vulgate, and Chaldee all understand "a working day," in opposition to a feast day; but "where thou didst hide thyself on a week day" gives no intelligible meaning. By the stone Ezel. As the name Ezel is formed from a verb signifying to go, some understand by it a road stone, a stone to mark the way.

1 Samuel 20:20-23

The two friends now agree upon the sign. Jonathan was to shoot three arrows at this stone, Ezel, as his mark, and was then to send his servant to gather them up. When he bad gone some distance Jonathan was to shout to him, loud enough for David to hear. If Jonathan said that the arrows were on that side the mark, i.e. between it and Jonathan, David was to come forth boldly, as all was well. But if Jonathan said that the arrows were further on, then David must understand that he was to seek safety in flight. For there is peace to thee, and no hurt, the Hebrew has "there is peace to thee, and it is nothing," a simpler and more idiomatic rendering. As touching the matter, etc. Rather, "As for the word that we have spoken, I and thou, behold, Jehovah is between me and thee forever." The word was the bond and covenant by which they had pledged their truth to one another. Though separated, their love was to continue, and Jehovah was to be their eternal centre of union, and the witness to their covenant.


1 Samuel 20:1-10

Endangered life and reputation.

The facts are—

1. David, believing in Saul's purpose to kill him, flees to Jonathan, and inquires into the cause of this persecution.

2. Jonathan quiets him by the assurance that Saul would not hide any purpose from him.

3. On David referring to Saul's knowledge of their friendship and its effect on his methods, Jonathan expresses readiness to do whatever David may suggest.

4. Thereupon David suggests a means by which Saul's disposition towards him can be ascertained.

5. He further pleads, on the ground of their strong friendship, that Jonathan should slay or aid to deliver him. It is not improbable that the coming of the prophetic spirit on Saul was, among other reasons, designed to help him once more to a due consideration of his course. But by this time David appears to have awakened to the conviction that the recent attempts on his life were not to be ascribed to fitful outbursts of madness, but to a fixed purpose, for reasons he could not surmise. As then he had sought refuge with Samuel from the hand of passionate violence, so now he naturally turns to his beloved friend Jonathan to ascertain from one presumably in his father's secrets the causes of this persistent attempt on his life, and to demand of him the offices of true friendship. A triple consciousness pervades this appeal of David: namely, of integrity, of danger, of duty of self-preservation.

I. A MAN CONSCIOUS OF INTEGRITY OF LIFE. It would appear that David was quite unaware of the secret of Saul's conduct. It is probable that he knew nothing of that fearful doom pronounced by Samuel (1 Samuel 15:26-29) which had operated so disastrously on the guilty mind of Saul. With the innocence of an unworldly man, he could not imagine that a monarch reigning over the people of God could ever devise destruction against a subject unless he believed that subject to have committed some crime worthy of death. Possibly the king might be under an unfounded impression; and as Jonathan was heir to the throne and in his father's confidence, he would surely inform his friend. At all events, so far as he knew his own heart, he was conscious only of integrity. "What have I done? What is mine iniquity?" In dealing with the important matter involved in these questions, let us observe that—

1. Integrity is to be sought in every man. David was correct in the assumption underlying his inquiry—that every one ought to be characterised by integrity of life, and that on its existence alone can we justly claim exemption from scorn, suffering, abandonment, and a right to respect, enjoyment of life, and personal protection. There is in every man a voice unceasingly demanding of him uprightness, moral soundness. The eye with which we look on one another is guided by this conviction. And it is in the universal recognition of the truth that integrity is to be sought in every one that we find a basis of appeal in the name of righteousness, and a rational place for the doctrines of atonement and regeneration.

2. Integrity is to be regarded in a twofold aspect. It will be observed that David simply raises the question as to what he had done in relation to Saul or his kingdom. He distinguished between integrity in his relations to man and integrity in his relations to God. All moral relations to man involve moral relations to God, but the reverse is not true. Man's relations to God are wider than those to his fellow men. Religious morality is not identical with secular morality. The spiritual embraces obligations transcending the humanly moral. Integrity in relation to man lies in the faithful discharge of all obligations due to man, under the influence of pure motives in detail, and a supreme sense of justice in general. But integrity in relation to God means perfect rightness of spirit, manifesting itself in perfect love of God, perfect obedience to God, perfect purity of thought—in fact, conformity in every secret and open movement of will with the holy will of God. This soundness, this health, is certain to insure integrity in relation to man, but the reverse is not true. This distinction is of great importance to the understanding of Scripture and the regulation of life (cf. 2 Chronicles 6:36-39; Job 15:14; Psalms 15:1-5.; Isaiah 33:15, Isaiah 33:16; Romans 3:23-28; James 5:16; 1 John 1:8).

3. Integrity in its human relation is, in ordinary life, maintained without self-assertion. During the months of David's service, from the day he entered into conflict with Goliath till his flight to Naioth, he had been a true, sincere man, doing his duty. But all this time he was not conscious of anything remarkable. The beauty of integrity of life lies in the naturalness which suggests no reflection upon itself. True virtue excludes self-admiration, and, when in exercise, self-consciousness. Our Saviour never refers to his goodness as a praise to himself. The sun needs only to shine, the truth only to be (Matthew 6:1-4; Luke 18:12).

4. Integrity may be asserted when challenged by detractors, or when wrong is done to one's interests. David's uprightness of life would have gone on without self-introspection and self. assertion were it not that he was subject to a treatment not explicable on ordinary principles. It was time for him to affirm his innocence, and bring his natural integrity into distinct consciousness. He often does this in the Psalms, not to claim righteousness in relation to God, but to rebut accusations in reference to his conduct amongst men. It was the same sense of injustice which led Job to assert his innocence of many of the charges of his friends. "I will maintain mine own ways before him" (Job 15:13-16). The Apostle Paul also vindicated his own life against the insinuations of false brethren (2Co 10:8-11; 2 Corinthians 11:6-10, 2 Corinthians 11:21-30). Our Saviour also, when persecuted by malicious men, could ask, "Which of you convinceth me of sin?" (John 8:46). Only a stern sense of duty—a protest against wrong—will break a righteous man's silence in relation to himself.

5. Integrity before man must never be a substitute for integrity before God. David's object was simply vindication from supposed charges of wrong deliberately done to Saul. He had a deep consciousness at the same time that in the sight of God, as a spiritual being, he was unworthy and in need of mercy. Only such a man, sensible of sinfulness before God, would dwell so much on mercy (Psalms 52:8; Psalms 62:12; Psalms 86:5), and at the same time on "integrity" and "uprightness" (Psalms 7:8; Psalms 25:21; Psalms 26:1; Psa 41:1-13 :42). Men take a very superficial view of things when they imagine that goodness which passes among men, and is a fulfilment of our earthly obligations, "extendeth" unto God (Psalms 16:2, Psalms 16:3). This was one of the deadly errors of the Pharisees, and it was exposed by the whole tenor of our Saviour's teaching (Luke 18:9-14; John 3:1-11). As we have not integrity before God, we must be born again, repent, seek forgiveness and acceptance, not because of what we are and have done, but because of Christ having loved us and given himself for us (Acts 4:12; Romans 3:24-28; Romans 4:5, Romans 4:6; Romans 5:1, Romans 5:2; Philippians 3:8, Philippians 3:9).

II. A MAN SENSIBLE OF GREAT PERIL. Two perils beset David. He feared death at the hand of Saul, and, most of all, loss of reputation. He rightly judged that if the king of Israel sought his life and chased him with that end in view, the impression would be conveyed to many that he had been guilty of some act of wrong well known to Saul, though unknown to the people. An upright man, although able to commit himself to God, dreads to be thought a wrong doer, and to die as though he were such. Hence his pleading with Jonathan, his pain at the suspicion of want of integrity, his desire to learn whether the king's mind was more placable. These two perils beset us all. In one sense we are safe from death till our appointed time has come, for God's care fails not; yet in relation to the forces at work around us we know not what a day or an hour may bring forth. Life is begirt with powers of destruction. There is but a "step" between us and death. "In the midst of life we are in death." The proper effect of this sense of peril is wholesome. It leads to such an estimate of life as renders it wiser, more sober, earnest, and devout (Psalms 39:4-7; Psalms 90:12; Ecclesiastes 9:10; Ecclesiastes 11:9; Ecclesiastes 12:13; 1 Corinthians 7:29-31). But to a sincerely good man danger to reputation is more serious. Many would rather die than either actually lose character or be deemed to have lost it. They can sympathise with David's wish that Jonathan would slay him if really moral cause existed. Our Saviour's pain was great because of the effort to ruin his character. But though all are exposed to these two perils in common with David, there is one other peril of life which often is an occasion of loss of reputation. We are exposed to the wiles of the devil. As Saul sought the life of David, so Satan goeth about seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8). Every day the adversary destroys by "his strong ones." The language of the Psalmist (Psalms 10:8-10) will apply with wonderful precision to the destroyer of souls, the "murderer from the beginning" (John 8:44). The proper effect of this sense of peril is to induce watchfulness, avoidance of the haunts of iniquity, prayer for strength, and such consecration to work as shall leave no time or thought for dalliance with the tempter (Matthew 7:13; Matthew 26:41; Ephesians 6:11, Ephesians 6:12, Ephesians 6:18).

III. A MAN INTENT ON SELF-PRESERVATION. While in conflict with Goliath, amidst the regular duties of his public course, David seems to have been under no concern for his life or reputation. He did his duty and trusted in God. But when he suspected attempts in the dark on his life and character, he felt bound to devise means of securing himself, and rightly manifested much anxiety in relation thereto. It is possible that character may be so defamed during life that only death will prove its vindication, as in case of our Saviour; nevertheless, no means should be left unused to assert our innocence and if possible prove it. The subtle powers which threaten our life may be often avoided by observance of laws of health and abstention from unnecessary risks. Many men commit slow suicide by wilful neglect of fresh air, good and moderate food, and by excessive toil for gain. The preservation of character may often be secured by abstaining from the "appearance of evil," though we shall never rid ourselves of uncharitable defamers.

General lessons:

1. We should strive to be free from the narrow suspicions and uncharitable thoughts which tend to injure excellent reputations (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).

2. If we cannot vindicate our reputation before men, let us have comfort in God's knowledge of us (Psalms 37:5, Psalms 37:6; Psalms 139:1-4).

3. Like Jonathan, we should manifest great sympathy with those whose honourable character is defamed or in peril.

4. Our supreme concern should be to live in spirit so as to find acceptance with the holy, all-seeing God.

1 Samuel 20:11-23

The spring of self-sacrifice.

The facts are—

1. Jonathan and David retire from observation to confer further.

2. Jonathan undertakes to do all that David requires, and solemnly pledges himself to let him know the mind of Saul.

3. He pleads with David, in prospect of his elevation to power, that he and his house may receive mercy.

4. In his eagerness he seeks a renewal of David's promise.

5. They then arrange that, after consulting with Saul, an arrow before or beyond a certain mark shall reveal safety or danger. This beautiful narrative brings out the love and confidence of these young men in such a way that one is constrained to ask whether there is not here, not only an exquisite instance of what all our religious friendship should be in spirit and expression, but an historical foreshadowing of the relation of the loving, confiding soul to the true Anointed of the Lord. We know that in the New Testament the promised land is a shadow of the "better country," the "rock" in the wilderness a figure of Christ (1 Corinthians 10:4), Zion and Jerusalem a type of the city of God, and David, the king after God's own heart, a pattern of another David, the only begotten of the Father, the eternal King in Zion (Isaiah 9:7; Acts 2:25-36). Also in the Psalms (Psalms 45:1-17.) and in Isaiah there are references to the deep interest of the Church in Christ and of Christ in the Church. It is not, then, unwarrantable to regard the devotion of Jonathan to the coming king, and because be was beloved as the coming king, as, at all events, suggestive of an analogous devotion of the true believer to Christ. The most striking feature of the narrative before us is the utter self-sacrifice of Jonathan and the deep love from which it sprang. We may notice the main features of the story, and in doing so point out their truth in Christian life.

I. There IS A FULL ACQUIESCENCE IN DAVID'S DESIRES SO FAR AS THEY ARE EXPLICITLY KNOWN. Some might regard the retirement of the two into the seclusion of "the field" as suggestive of the private and sacred communion of a believer and Christ; but, without dwelling on that, it may be noticed that as soon as privacy was secured Jonathan at once, with solemn and pathetic earnestness, pledges himself to all that David had so far required. How true this is of a believer in Christ! When the "Anointed of the Lord" makes known his request, whether it be to bear witness for him, to remember his death, or to feed and clothe the little ones, the true heart responds with all zeal and delight. It is a mark of a true Christian, that of delighting to do his will. His yoke is easy and his burden light. It was a very delicate and difficult business to find out Saul's mind, and involved no little risk to Jonathan; and it is possible that much in which we have to acquiesce involves a strain and tension of feeling, a firmness and endurance, a risk of worldly loss, and a certainty of personal inconvenience; but nevertheless all is welcome, because it is for him who has won our love and is worthy of the best service we can ever render.

II. There IS A DISTINCT RECOGNITION OF HIS ENDURING SUPREMACY, AND A CORRESPONDING SENSE OF PERSONAL UNWORTHINESS OF SUCH DISTINGUISHED FRIENDSHIP. It is hard to say in words how refined spiritual minds obtain all their knowledge. They seem to possess an insight, a supersensual instinct, which takes them straight through the present external conditions to the abiding reality. At all events, Jonathan was convinced that his beloved friend was destined to be king in Israel, and he speaks as one not worthy of such honour; and yet, with all this reverence and awe of the coming majesty and power, there was the tender love "passing that of women." Faith saw through the loneliness and oppressed state of David, and recognised the king in Zion. This was the real feeling of the apostles, in their better moods, during the Saviour's humiliation. They knew that, though men were divided in judgment, he was "the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Matthew 16:13-16). The deep love of John when reclining on his bosom, and the sense of unworthiness of Peter when he cried, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord" (Luke 5:8), were only instances of the feeling which usually pervaded their minds. And it is this recognition and the feeling accompanying it which enters into every believer's life. He is the King, the Hope of the afflicted nations, the "Restorer of paths to dwell in" (Isaiah 58:12). As Jonathan with passionate love and strong confidence gazed on the beautiful face of David, so do we look with intense interest on Christ and feel sure, in spite of the slow ages and the present antagonisms, that he "must reign," that on his own head an imperishable crown shall flourish (Psalms 72:1-20.). And while admiration, joy, and satisfaction attend this prevision of the coming glory, the heart is filled with wonder and gratitude in being permitted to call that Chosen One a Friend.

III. There IS A FREE SURRENDER OF ALL THAT IS DEAREST TO THE REALISATION OF HIS SUPREMACY. Nothing, humanly speaking, was more precious to Jonathan than his right to the succession, and the prospects of power and distinction involved therein. Nothing in history is more beautiful than the spontaneity and heartiness with which he laid aside all this, and found joy and satisfaction in the coming supremacy of David (verses 14-17). What noble self-sacrifice for high spiritual purposes! This was more than "houses and lands," more than "father and mother" (Matthew 19:29). Only the true spiritual vision of the kingdom of God will account for such deviation from the selfish ways of the world. "The Lord" was in the mind of Jonathan, and "the Name" (Joh 17:1-26 :45) which David had exalted was the "Name" to be still more honoured in his coining reign. And in this is the essence of our Christian life. Surrender of all for Christ: sacrifice of every power, prospect, hope, and wish to the holy purposes for which the "Anointed One" lives. In this there is no exaction and no constraint. Christ does not demand something for his mere personal gratification, and we do not yield to a loss because a more powerful One claims what we have. Jonathan and David were as one (verse 17). They had but one interest, and lived for one object. Loss and gain were inadequate terms. The surrender to one was as a surrender to self. Loss was gain, and gain was loss. So is it in the mystical union of our lives with Christ. Though we give up all, and perform what men call self-sacrifice, we yet give up nothing. For us "to live is Christ." Blessed oneness! Always giving, always receiving; ever denying self, ever enriching self! The glory of the King is our glory; the sorrows of our heart are his sorrows; deeds to his are deeds to him (Matthew 25:34-40; John 17:24; Hebrews 4:15).

IV. LOVE, CONSTANT AND MASTERFUL, IS THE SPRING OF ALL THIS SELF-SACRIFICE. Jonathan's love was the master passion—"passing that of women"—pure, steady, unaffected by public opinion and private influence (verses 30, 31), illumined and regulated by spiritual insight, prompt in expression, giving joy and satisfaction to every deed and word that might bring future honour to David or present comfort in trouble. This undying love, this regnant force, so pure, so sweet, so strong, so gentle: ennobled its possessor, and was regarded by its object as the most beautiful and precious thing on earth. Events show that it was reciprocal (verse 41; 2 Samuel 1:25, 2 Samuel 1:26). It is this strong master passion that lies at the spring of all our true Christian service. "We love him because he first loved us." "The love of Christ constraineth us." We do his will, lay our talents, possessions, prospects, all we inherit or can acquire, at his feet because we love to do so, and would not do otherwise if we could. No box of ointment is too costly for those dear feet that have trodden the sorrowful paths of life for us! No crown too glorious for that brow that once was pierced and pained for us! No joy too excessive in final enthronement over all principality and power of him who once did battle for us, and destroyed the gigantic foe of God's people! To measure out our service, to reckon how little we can spare or do, to shut him out from any section of our life—this were debasement and shame indeed. Love—"passing that of women"—seeks satisfaction in living for Christ and glorying only in him.

General lessons:

1. We should inquire whether any of Christ's requirements have as yet been disregarded.

2. It is a matter of doubt whether the professing Christian Church fully enters into the joy of Christ's coming glory, and is sufficiently identified in hope and feeling with it.

3. Each one may ask, Have I surrendered all that is precious to Christ? Is there any reserve?

4. The due culture of love for Christ as the supreme affection of life demands thought and care.

5. The cure of many of the sorrows and ills of Christians and Churches lies in the quickening of this personal interest in Christ.


1 Samuel 20:1-10. (GIBEAH.)

The intercourse of friends.

The regard which true friends have for each other prompts to much communion. In it they find an exalted pleasure, and a sure resource of help and comfort in adversity. Hence David, in his continued distrust and fear of Saul, hastened to his friend Jonathan. Concerning their intercourse, notice—

1. Its entire freedom. They tell each other, without reserve, all that is in their hearts. Such freedom can be wisely indulged only in the presence of a friend. "A principal fruit of friendship is the ease and discharge of the fulness and swellings of the heart which passions of all kinds do cause and induce. No receipt openeth the heart but a true friend, to whom you may impart griefs, joys, fears, hopes, suspicions, counsel, and whatsoever lieth upon the heart to oppress it, in a kind of civil shrift or confession. It redoubleth joys, and cutteth griefs in halves" (Bacon, 'Essays').

2. Its gentle expostulations and reproofs. When David said, "Thy father seeketh my life" (an expression often used in the Psalms), Jonathan reproved his distrust—"It is not so;" and only after a solemn oath could be induced to share it (1 Samuel 20:9). Rebuke is a duty and evidence of true friendship; and "where a man's ears are shut against the truth so that he cannot hear it from a friend, the welfare of such a one is to be despaired of." "As many as I love I rebuke."

3. Its kindly assurances. "Whatsoever thy soul desireth, I will do it for thee." Such assurances he gave generously, sincerely, solemnly, and repeatedly, and they imparted encouragement and increased confidence. How "exceeding great and precious" are the promises which the heavenly Friend has given for this purpose to his friends!

4. Its anxious consultations and intelligent counsels. "The second fruit of friendship is healthful and sovereign for the understanding, as the first is for the affections; for friendship maketh indeed a fair day in the affections from storm and tempests, but it maketh daylight in the understanding out of darkness and confusion of thoughts; neither is this to be understood only of faithful counsel. The last fruit is aid, and bearing a part in all actions and occasions" (Bacon).

5. Its earnest requests of aid (1 Samuel 20:8). Although it is the part of friendship to grant help to a friend rather than to beg it of him, yet it shows itself by reliance upon him in great emergencies, and confidently claims the fulfilment of former assurances; nor will it look for aid to a true friend in vain.

6. Its manifest imperfection. For, like all things earthly, human friendship is imperfect. Its communion is liable to interruption (1 Samuel 20:10, 1 Samuel 20:41). It often entertains thoughts, devises plans, and makes requests which are mistaken and injurious. The statement of David (though founded upon a measure of truth) was a mere pretext, and through failing faith in God he fell into "foolish and hurtful devices." It also omits reproof when it should be given, complies with doubtful requests, and promises what it is not able to perform. But all the defects which are found in the highest human friendship are absent from, and all the excellences which it possesses, and infinitely more, are present in, the friendship of Christ.—D.

1 Samuel 20:3. (GIBEAH.)

Only a step.

Our path in life lies along the brink of a river or the edge of a cliff; and we may by a step—a single step—at any moment meet our fate. The asseveration of David may be regarded as the expression of a strong conviction ("As Jehovah liveth," etc.) of—

I. THE SOLEMNITY OF DEATH. The event is a serious one. To leave familiar scenes and beloved friends, to "be missed" from our accustomed place is a saddening thought. But what gives solemnity to death as well as life is its moral aspect, its spiritual and Divine relations.

1. It terminates our earthly probation—severs our immediate connection with the privileges, means, and opportunities by which character is proved and the soul prepared for another state. When this step is taken, all these things belong to the past.

2. It ushers us into the Divine presence; no longer partially concealed by the veil of material things, but fully revealed in light, which reveals the moral attitude of every human spirit and judges it "in righteousness." "After death" (and following close upon it) "the judgment" (Hebrews 9:28). "We must all be manifest before the judgment seat of Christ," etc. (2 Corinthians 5:10).

3. It fixes our future destiny, in weal or woe. "What is a man profited," etc.

II. THE UNCERTAINTY OF LIFE. The step must be taken, but when we know not. That we may be duly impressed by a truth which all admit, hut few adequately realise, consider—

1. The frailty of the body, and the innumerable dangers to which it is exposed. "Between us and hell or heaven there is nothing but life, the most fragile thing in existence (Pascal).

2. The facts of daily observation. What occurs to others so often, so suddenly and unexpectedly, may occur to ourselves. We have no guarantee that it will not. "Man's uncertain life is like a raindrop on the bough, amid ten thousand of its sparkling kindred, and at any moment it may fall."

3. The declarations of the Divine word. "Man knoweth not his time," etc. (Ecclesiastes 9:12). "Ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life?" etc. (James 4:14). Why should we be left in such uncertainty?

(1) To teach us the sovereignty of God and our dependence upon him.

(2) To accord with our present probationary position, which necessitates the proper adjustment of motives to our freedom and responsibility.

(3) To enable us properly to perform the ordinary duties of life, in connection with which we are appointed to serve God here and prepare for his service hereafter.

(4) To check presumption in devoting undue attention to the affairs of this life and neglecting those of the life to come.

(5) To lead us not to put the event out of our minds altogether, but rather to constant preparation for it and for the life that lies beyond. "The last day is kept secret that every day may be watched". "Take ye heed, watch and pray, for ye know not when the time is" (Mark 13:33). "Be ye therefore ready also, etc. (Luke 12:40).

III. THE NECESSITY OF WATCHFUL PREPARATION. Seeing that at any instant the step may be taken, it plainly behoves us to be always ready.

1. By seeking and maintaining a right state of heart (John 3:2, John 3:14).

2. By diligent, faithful, and persevering performance of duty.

3. By constant and prayerful committal of our souls into the hands of God. So, whenever the step is taken, it will be "only a step" out of the shadows and sorrows Of earth into the glory and joy of heaven.—D.

1 Samuel 20:11-23. (THE OPEN COUNTRY, NEAR GIBEAH.)

A covenant of friendship.

"And Jonathan made a covenant with the house of David" (1 Samuel 20:16). The friendship of Jonathan and David was expressed and confirmed by a sacred covenant (1 Samuel 18:3). The covenant now made differed from the former.

1. It was made at a time of trial. Their friendship was put to a severe test; for it had become clear to the mind of Jonathan that David was destined to be king (1 Samuel 20:13), as he afterwards stated more fully (1 Samuel 23:17) "Jonathan caused David to swear again" (1 Samuel 20:17), not because he distrusted him, but "because he loved him: for he loved him as be loved his own soul;" and in times of special danger such repeated and solemn assurances may be needful and beneficial.

2. It included the obligation to show kindness to the house of Jonathan as well as himself. Consider it as—

I. CONFIRMED BY AN APPEAL TO GOD. It was customary in making a covenant (contract or agreement) to take an oath in which God was appealed to as a witness and an avenger of its violation (Genesis 26:28; Genesis 31:45-53). Even when no such appeal is expressly made it should be remembered—

1. That he observes the promises and engagements which men make to one another, and keeps a faithful record thereof (Malachi 3:16).

2. That he loves to see truth and faithfulness in their speech and conduct (Deuteronomy 7:9; Deuteronomy 32:4).

3. That he manifests his displeasure toward those who neglect or violate their engagements (Ezekiel 17:9).

4. That he shows favour and affords help to those who strive to keep them faithfully. "Who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully. He shall receive the blessing from the Lord" (Psalms 24:4; Psalms 15:4; Ephesians 4:25).

II. DEEPENING THE SENSE OF OBLIGATION. In some cases a covenant creates a new obligation; in others (like that of friendship) it intensifies the force and feeling of it—

1. By the solemn manner in which it is made.

2. By the greater definiteness in which the obligation is expressed.

3. By the permanent record which is formed of it in the memory, often associated with particular places and objects (Joshua 24:27).

4. And this is important as an incentive to faithfulness in temptation arising from self-interest and strong passion to set it aside. As often as Jonathan and David remembered their sacred covenant they would be impelled to ever higher love and faithfulness.

III. CONTRIBUTING TO THE BENEFIT OF BOTH. "By Jehovah," etc. (1 Samuel 20:12). "And O that thou wouldst while I live show me kindness," etc. (1 Samuel 20:14). Each received as well as gave assurances of kindness, which served—

1. To afford a claim that might be confidently urged in difficulty and danger (1 Samuel 20:8).

2. To enrich the soul with a permanent feeling of pure and elevating joy. "Very pleasant hast thou been to me" (2 Samuel 1:26).

3. To preserve it from despondency in hours of darkness and trouble.

4. To increase its aspiration and endeavour after all that is excellent. The continued loyalty of David to Saul and his acts of kindness to him were doubtless greatly incited by the love of Jonathan; and the latter was not less morally strengthened and blessed by the love of David. "There is no influence on a feeling mind stronger than the sense of being loved; nothing more elevating, more securing to the inner life."

IV. INVOLVING THE WELFARE OF OTHERS. "And that thou wouldst not cut off thy kindness from my house forever," etc. (1 Samuel 20:15, 1 Samuel 20:23). "His request that his house may be excepted from this judgment, as executor of which he regards David, is founded on and justified by his position outside the circle of 'enemies' (since he recognises God's will concerning David, and bends to it as David's friend), so that, though a member of Saul's house, he does not belong to it as concerns the judgment of extermination" (Erdmann).

1. A parent naturally desires and ought to seek the welfare of his family.

2. He may by his faithful conduct do much to promote it.

3. For the sake of one many are frequently and justly spared and blessed. "Is there yet any that is left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan's sake" (2 Samuel 9:1).

4. The memory of the good is a perpetual incitement to goodness.


1. The wonderful condescension of God in making with men a friendly covenant (arrangement, constitution, dispensation), according to which be graciously assures them of unspeakable privileges and blessings (Genesis 9:14; Jeremiah 31:33; Galatians 3:15-18).

2. The sure ground which is thereby afforded for confidence and "strong consolation."

3. The necessity of observing the appointed conditions thereof.

4. To look to God for all good through "Jesus, the Mediator of the new covenant" (Hebrews 12:24), and "for Christ's sake" (Ephesians 4:32).—D.


1 Samuel 20:3

Mortal peril.

Brave men have their times of depression, and believing men have their fits of discouragement. Of David's courage there could be no question. He had faced death without flinching, both in defence of his flock from beasts of prey, and for the deliverance of Israel from the boastful Philistine. Yet he now recoiled, saying, "There is but a step between me and death." He felt as on the edge of a precipice. One push, and he was gone. We need not wonder at this; for it is one thing to meet an enemy in the open field, another thing to feel that one's steps are dogged by treacherous malice, and not know but one may be attacked in his sleep, or struck from behind, or entrapped by some cruel stratagem. Of David's faith in God there could be just as little question as of his bravery. All the successes he had gained had been triumphs of faith. But temperament goes for something too, and the son of Jesse had the sensitive nature which goes with poetic genius. He was capable of great exultation, but just as capable of sudden discouragement; and when he gave way to a foreboding, melancholy mood, his faith looked like unbelief. The young and healthy cannot, should not, wish to die. We can feel for Henry Kirke White, though his tone was too gloomy, when he wrote, deprecating his early fate—

"It is hard

To feel the hand of Death arrest one's steps
Throw a chill blight o'er all one's budding hopes,
And hurl one's soul untimely to the shades."

Poets, both heathen and Christian, have often deplored the disease and violence which cast young lives headlong from the precipice. And we regard the youthful David's recoil from the cruel death which Saul designed for him as quite natural, and in no sense discreditable to his manhood. But there is more than this in his melancholy.

I. THE OLD TESTAMENT WAY OF REGARDING DEATH. In the days before Christ, dimness overhung the doctrine of a future existence. "Life and incorruption" had not been brought to light. It was therefore reckoned a blessing to live long in Palestine. It was a sore calamity to die in one's youth. The soldiers of Israel would encounter death in the excitement of battle; and such prophets as Elijah and Jonah could even wish for death in a hurt and discouraged mood of mind; but, as a rule, even the most devout Hebrews regarded death with sadness and reluctance. No wonder that David, brought up in the ideas of his own age, not of ours, should shrink from the cutting short of his days by violence, just when he had won distinction, and begun to be of service to his nation. The horror of it hung above him for many a day; for even after many wonderful escapes we hear him say, "I shall now perish one day by the hand of Saul." This sadness or reluctance in view of death never left an Old Testament worthy like David except in the hour of battle, or under some such strong emotion as once made him cry, "Would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!" At the end of his career he made express mention in his song of thanksgiving of his deliverance from the "sorrows" and the "snares of death" (2 Samuel 22:1-51.). And when we see him in old age, anxiously nursed that his days might be prolonged, we catch no sign of a spirit longing to be free and assured of being with the Lord, such as one expects to find in the latter days of almost any eminent Christian. "Now the days of David drew nigh that he should die, and he charged Solomon his son, saying, I go the way of all the earth." Compare the language in Psalms 13:3; Psalms 30:9; Psalms 88:11; and that of Hezekiah in Isaiah 38:1-22. Contrast with this the contempt of death which was admired and often exhibited by the heathen. But the Hebrew feeling on the subject was really the more exalted, as having a perception of the connection of death with sin, and a value for communion with the living God in the land which was his, and therefore theirs, of which the heathen mind knew nothing.


1. Contrast with the case of David in youth that of Stephen at Jerusalem, evidently young, or in the prime of life. His powers were at the full, and a distinguished career of usefulness among the Hellenist Jews opened before him. Those who entered into controversy with him "were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spake." Suddenly the enraged Jews seized him, and dragged him before the Sanhedrim on the capital charge of blasphemy. Well did Stephen know that there was but a step between him and death; but no melancholy fell upon his spirit. "All that sat in the council, looking steadfastly on him, saw his face as it had been the face of an angel."

2. Contrast with the case of David in old age that of "such an one as Paul the aged," and his feeling when he was "ready to be offered," and the time of his departure was at hand. He too was a man of sensitive temperament, and suffered keenly at times from dejection. He too was careful not to throw his life away. But when there seemed but a step between him and death, what an access of light, what an advance of consolation and hope, had the servant of God in the New Testament over the servant of God in the Old! David said, "I go the way of all the earth." But Paul, "We are confident, and willing rather to be absent from the body and present with the Lord." O happy ending of this troubled life! O welcome escape from fleshly impediment, weariness, temptation, insufficiency, and sorrow!

III. CHRIST'S CONTEMPLATION OF HIS OWN DECEASE. He who is the Son of David, and the Lord of Stephen and of Paul, saw in the very prime of youthful manhood that there was but a step between him and death, and that too a death of harsh violence such as his ancestor had feared. There was, however, this difference between "the Man Christ Jesus" and all other men—that he knew when, where, and how he should die. It was to be at Jerusalem, and at the time of the feast. He foretold the very day on which he should "be perfected," and indicated that it would be by crucifixion in saying that the Son of man would be "lifted up from the earth." From such knowledge it is well that we are exempt. To know the place, time, and manner of our death would tempt, perhaps, at first to carelessness; and then, as the date came near, would put a strain on our spirits very hard to be borne. Such a strain was upon Christ, and, as the bitter death approached, his spirit was "exceeding sorrowful." As David had his friend Jonathan to show him sympathy and endeavour to drive from his mind the presentiment of death, so Jesus Christ had his disciples, who, as lovers and friends, besought him not to think of dying; but he could not take comfort from them. The cup which his Father had given him to drink, should he not drink it? To him death was gain. He finished all his work and travail, then left the world and went to the Father. "Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit." We have much to learn from David, more from Stephen and Paul, most of all from our Lord Jesus. What if there be but a step between us and death? It is a step which cannot be taken but as, and when, and where our Lord appoints. "Lord Jesus, into thy hands I commit my spirit!" "Absent from the body, present with the Lord."—F.

Verses 24-42



1 Samuel 20:24-26

The king sat him down to eat meat. Hebrew, "the king sat down at the bread to eat." On sitting at table see 1 Samuel 16:11. And Jonathan arose. When the king had taken his usual place, that of honour, next the wall, and therefore farthest from the door, Jonathan arose and took his place on one side of the king, while Abner sat on the other. David's place below them was left empty. The omission of the statement that Jonathan sat down makes the passage obscure, and the versions bungle in rendering it, but there can be little doubt that these words ought to be supplied. He is not clean. Saul supposed that some ceremonial defilement (see Le 1 Samuel 15:2-16) had befallen David, and as the new moon was a religious festival, this would necessarily prevent his attendance.

1 Samuel 20:27-29

On the morrow, which was the second day of the month. Hebrew, "on the morrow of the new moon, the second day." David's absence on the second day made Saul aware that it was no accident, and he demands of Jonathan the reason; whereupon he gives the excuse previously arranged, adding that it was David's brother who had required his attendance. The Septuagint has brothers, being offended at the singular, because Jesse was still alive. But as the festival was not confined to Jesse's household, his brother might very properly be the convener, without usurping his father's place. Let me get away. Literally, "let me escape," "let me get off," a light, half jocose way of speaking adopted by Jonathan, as if the matter were a mere trifle.

1 Samuel 20:30, 1 Samuel 20:31

Thou son of the perverse rebellious woman. Literally, "thou son of one perverse in rebellion." In the East it is the greatest possible insult to a man to call his mother names; but the word rendered perverse, instead of being a feminine adjective, is probably an abstract noun, and "son of perversity of rebellion" would mean one who was thoroughly perverse in his resistance to his father's will. Unto the confusion of thy mother's nakedness. I.e. thy mother will feel ashamed and disgraced at having borne such a son. He shall surely die. Hebrew, "he is a son of death," son, being constantly used in Hebrew to express qualities, or, as here, the fate to which a man is destined.

1 Samuel 20:32-34

When Jonathan pleaded mildly for his friend, Saul did not east, but "brandished" (see on 1 Samuel 18:11) his javelin at him, threatening to smite him. This fierce behaviour of his father filled Jonathan also with anger, and he arose, refused to partake of the meal, and went away in wrath. His indignation was roused not merely at his father having thus brandished his javelin in his face, for he was sitting close to Saul, but because he had cast shameful aspersions upon David in saying that he was a rebel, and deserved death.


1 Samuel 20:35-38

The next morning Jonathan went out into the field, not at the time, but "to the place" appointed, taking with him a little lad, as less likely to suspect a reason. Having shot at the mark, he sends him to pick up the arrows, and as he runs to do so he shoots one beyond him, and, calling aloud, gives David the sign that there was no hope. To keep the boy's attention engaged he gives him hurried commands—Make speed, haste, stay not. Instead of the arrows the written text has "Jonathan's lad gathered up the arrow," i.e. that one especially which Jonathan had shot beyond him, and to which his rapid commands referred.

1 Samuel 20:40-42

His artillery. I.e. his weapons. To get rid of the boy Jonathan sends him home with his bow and arrows, and then David arose out of a place toward the south, or "from the south side" of the stone Ezel, and while not forgetting in his repeated obeisance the honour due to Jonathan's dignity, yet friendship prevailed, and they kissed one another and wept sore, until David exceeded, i.e. broke down, and was completely mastered by his grief. And so they parted, David to begin a life of danger and wandering, while Jonathan returned to the city to be a dutiful son to Saul. Phillipson remarks, "The scenes in this chapter are some of the most affecting presented to us in history, whether in old or modern times, and we may Well wonder at the delicacy of feeling and the gentleness of the sentiments which these two men in those old rough times entertained for one another. No ancient writer has set before us so noble an example of a heart felt, unselfish, and thoroughly human state of feeling, and none has described friendship with such entire truth in all its relations, and with such complete and profound knowledge of the human heart."


1 Samuel 20:24-34

Wasted influences, muffed thoughts, and conflicting interests.

The facts are—

1. While David lies hidden, Saul notices his absence from the feast on the first day, and refers it to some ceremonial defilement.

2. On the second day he calls Jonathan's attention to the fact, and inquires the cause.

3. On his explaining the reason, Saul, in a fit of anger, accuses him of friendship with David, and points out the injury which he thinks will arise therefrom.

4. On Jonathan reasoning against the command to fetch David that he may be slain, Saul, in his rage, casts a javelin at him.

5. Jonathan, indignant at the injustice and cruelty of his father, leaves the court and spends the day in fasting and sorrow. The chief interest of this section turns on the conduct of Jonathan and Saul in the absence of David. The event proved the sagacity of David in keeping at a safe distance from his declared enemy. The facts of this narrative may be best dealt with as furnishing suggestions of realities common even in modern life.

I. THE COMMINGLED CHARACTERS OF LIFE. Here was a festive board, a court banquet, and a blending in it of characters most dissimilar. First there was Saul, sullen, morose, charged to the full with envy and malice, ready for deeds of blood, and fearful of a doom of which he dared not speak. Then there was Jonathan, pure, bright, the very soul of chivalry and honour, carrying on his heart a tender secret, and bound by holy bonds to the interests of a coming king. By him was Abner in a seat of honour, just coming into distinction, a warrior destined to play an important part in the future affairs of Israel. Others, not named, were there—men of influence, varying in temper and diversely influenced by the strange events of the age. And, in spirit, holding his right to a vacant place, David, who in sympathy sustained the heart of his beloved friend in face of a perilous undertaking. A motley assembly in a moral point of view! Representative of many a banquet and social gathering! Society is strangely formed. The necessities of life, sustained by custom, bring into contact elements most dissimilar, each being toned down by the presence of the other, and the powers that lie in the heart being systematically repressed out of deference to the proprieties of life. The contending forces of sin and holiness, modified by diversities in education and association, issue in shades of character in endless variety. Take any assembly, around the festive board or in a wider circle; what passions, hopes, fears, terrors, joys, aspirations, motives, designs lie concealed in each breast! Each one there is a distinct world; carries in himself a special destiny; is a sepulchre of buried joys, or a garden of germinating seeds. How little we know of those sitting by our side! What tragedies are to be wrought out by some we meet! (Matthew 10:26; 1 Corinthians 2:11).

II. WASTED INFLUENCES. Saul's spirit and conduct at this time were evidence that all the efforts to bring him to a right state of mind were in vain. During his career Providence had wrought through trouble and joy, prophet and people, threatening and encouragement, and lately through the wise and gentle persuasions of his eldest son and the awe-inspiring presence of the prophetic company (1 Samuel 19:21-24). But it all proved to be as the "morning cloud and early dew." Indeed, the coarse language and foul abuse and increased violence on this occasion remind us of the unclean spirit returning with other spirits to make the last state worse than the first (Matthew 12:45). This necessarily raises the thought of the extent and lessons of the wasted influences of life. That vast and varied influences are brought to bear on human beings, which, so far as we can trace in this life, do not issue in their legitimate results is obvious. "Seed on stony ground" is a fact in the moral as in the physical world. "How often would I have gathered thee!" is repeated by hundreds of parents and teachers after the example of the sorrowing Lord. The hitter tears of broken hearted parents and the lamentations of our true Jeremiahs over degenerate nationalities raise the question of Why such wasted energy for good? It does not, indeed, follow that all is lost which seems to be lost on the immediate object. The waste of life which Butler refers to in his 'Analogy' is, we know, not really such in the economy of the universe. And so even the fruitless expenditure of moral influence on our reckless souls is wrought up into useful expenditure, for moral instruction and maintenance of justice, in the whole circle of moral existence. Our Saviour's appeals issued in rejection by the Pharisees, but the two together will form an element in the discipline and instruction of untold ages which will be highly useful. It suggests thought as to the mystery of the human will, and the relation of present to future existence. It suggests inquiries for all Christian workers—whether their methods are wisest, are sustained in a right spirit, and are sufficiently varied in kind. It brings grave questions to the conscience of those who enjoy privileges—as to what account they will render, and whether they shall ever be more than awful monuments in the universe for the warning of other beings.

III. MUFFLED THOUGHTS. "Saul spake not anything that day: for he thought" (1 Samuel 20:26). As the monarch sat at the head of his table the guests saw his stately form and heard his voice when he conversed on the ordinary topics of the day; but also "he thought"—thoughts of David, his past honours, his possible future, his absence today, and his appearance on the morrow, and then his speedy death, passed swifter than lightning through the dark mind, indicating their existence in the low, muffled tones which only the ear of God could discern. Thought is constantly tending to expression in words, and there are gradations in its movement. From simple definiteness of existence up to loud exclamations, Saul's thoughts, like muffled bells, were ringing within in subdued tones, their language being distinct to himself and to God. It is often forgotten that thought is language in the world of mind; and it is a solemn fact that our real life lies in the thoughts we allow to pass through our mind. Many are under the delusion that what is said audibly and done visibly constitutes the material of which character is built and on which judgment will one day be pronounced. We are spiritual, invisible beings. And while thus our thoughts are the real forms of our life, it is worthy of remark that not one thousandth part of what we think ever finds expression in distinct, audible tones. The vast preponderance of our thoughts beat in muffled tones because we dare not or cannot utter them. What God must hear beating in the hearts of men daily! It was muffled thought which Christ detected saying, "This man blasphemeth" (Matthew 9:3; Luke 6:7, Luke 6:8), and which said, "There is no God." The same is true of the "groaning of the prisoner" which cometh up before God, and the dumb prayers of the children of God all over the earth. Keep thy heart with all diligence.

IV. CONFLICTING INTERESTS. Jonathan appears to have been an authority with his father in all matters pertaining to the court and government (1 Samuel 20:2, 1 Samuel 20:27). The muffled thoughts which all along had muttered vengeance against David now found audible and violent expression in the abuse poured on Jonathan and the villanous attempt on his life. He set before Jonathan as conflicting interests, between which he was to make a choice, his friendship for David and his succession to the kingdom. If Jonathan kept the one he must lose the other. Saul assumed that policy and prudence would dictate the choice of the succession, for, with the swift logic of the cruel, he wound up his argument by, "Therefore now send and fetch him unto me, for he shall surely die" (1 Samuel 20:31). It is easy to show that Saul's logic, like that of all the wicked, was faulty; for if David was really the "neighbour" to whom God had decreed to give the kingdom (1 Samuel 15:28), no breaking of friendship would prevent his having it; and if David was a friend of Jonathan he would never rob him of his right should the friendship be maintained. Jonathan's love and spiritual insight enabled him to see through the fallacy and to make his choice. There are alternatives open to most men in the course of years which bring material and spiritual considerations into sharp contrast. Here it was selfish grasping at power versus joy in God's purposes for Israel and mankind. Moses had to say whether the probability of becoming prime minister of Egypt was more attractive than identifying himself with the despised slaves in prosecution of a spiritual enterprise. The same contrast arose, though the choice was different, when the young rich man was required to evince his supreme love for God and all that that implies by giving up the wealth on which his heart was set (Matthew 19:20-22). The possession of wealth and acquisition of honour in public life are not inconsistent with true piety, but it makes all the difference when parents say to young men, "Give up your religion if you are to make your way in the world;" "Surrender the Greater than David, and grasp the honours of this life." Every one is called on to decide between Christ and the supremacy of material, earthly interests. In which lies wisdom is evident (Matthew 10:37; Matthew 19:27-29).

V. VIRTUE VICTORIOUS. Jonathan was proof against parental influence, material considerations delusively presented, and even threatening of death. He pleaded for right and innocence. He mourned the debasement of a father. He was indignant at the base insinuations against the noblest and purest of men. He dared to let the court know his preference for the spiritual over the material (1 Samuel 20:34). This is heroism requiring far more courage than to go amidst the cheers of men and the pageantry of war to the cannon's mouth. Here is the power of faith, the sufficiency of God's grace, the victory that overcometh the world (Hebrews 11:32-38). The world is short sighted. Jonathan now wears a crown which will never fade (2Ti 2:12; 2 Timothy 4:7, 2 Timothy 4:8; Revelation 3:21).

General lessons:1. Seeing that such varied characters are around us, let us be in every place as the "salt of the earth" and "light of the world."

2. It is our duty to exercise the holiest influence and to work unweariedly, whatever be the issue (Ecclesiastes 11:6).

3. We should cultivate such an inner life that if all our thoughts found audible expression we need not be ashamed (Psalms 51:6, Psalms 51:10).

4. Everyone is tempted to reject Christ, and so every one has to determine his own destiny.

5. Fidelity in seasons of great trial depends much on previously cultivated friendship with Christ.

1 Samuel 20:35-42

Warning in danger.

The facts are—

1. In accordance with arrangement, Jonathan, on the next day, goes out into the field, and, on shooting the arrow beyond the lad with him, he cries out the signal of danger.

2. David recognises the sign, and the lad is sent away to the city.

3. Thereupon David and Jonathan embrace each other, and take a sorrowful farewell—Jonathan giving him his benediction, and reminding him for his comfort of the sacred covenant between them both. A crisis had come in the life of David which demanded prompt action. He had passed from a quiet pastoral occupation to the fall glory of a victor's triumph, and from thence through the chequered scenes of public service in the army and the court. Meanwhile the hidden purposes of God were fast developing; and now the "anointed" has to take a painful step in order to insure the preservation of life essential to the realisation of the end for which Samuel had chosen him in the name of God. The manner in which Jonathan performed his part is a beautiful instance of wise and faithful friendship under most perilous circumstances. We see here—

I. HOW WE MAY COME INTO CIRCUMSTANCES OF GREAT DANGER WHICH AT ONE TIME WOULD NOT BE ANTICIPATED. The life of the anointed of the Lord was in real peril by reason of the fixed purpose of an enraged and envious king. No one would have supposed such a condition of things when the ruddy youth went forth to meet the giant, and subsequently received favours at the hand of Saul. But the possibilities of human experience transcend all our effort to foresee. What the web of life will embrace as the weaving goes on who can tell? It is true one stage prepares the way for another according to fixed laws, but we know not what new external condition a day or an hour may bring forth to modify an existing stage. Who less than Divine could have supposed that Adam, pure and blessed, would soon be exposed to so deadly a peril in Eden? or that he who received the homage of wise men and was the subject of angelic praise would be sought by a murderous Herod? The great lines of human experience are still the same. In business affairs the once prosperous come sometimes into risks of property, reputation, and all that is dear. By associations not looked for, characters once without suspicion are in danger of a fatal compromise. The tender, happy youth of a pious home, encircled by all that love can provide, is found far from home on the verge of a moral precipice. No position of privilege or service sets us above the possibility of grave dangers. Even David, the chosen servant, was nigh unto death, and the holy apostle was anxious lest, having preached to others, he himself should at last be a "castaway" (1 Corinthians 9:27).

II. PROVIDENCE ALWAYS PROVIDES KINDLY WARNINGS OF DANGER AND INCENTIVES TO ESCAPE. In the service of God David came into this great peril, but by the offices of friendship God mercifully provided for his need. The signal was given, and he recognised its meaning. It said to him, "Flee; escape." Perhaps it may be safely said that there is no circumstance of moral—and often of material—danger into which we may be brought in the unfolding of events but that God makes known our position and opens a way of escape. Even in ordinary affairs the voice of a sober judgment, if not of some personal friend, may warn the merchant of his risks, and suggest a speedy retreat from entanglements. Often a man, gradually forming undesirable associations, is warned by relatives and those who love him best of the peril of his reputation. The quondam youth of purity hears a voice as from a mother's heart saying, as he in later years stands on the brink of ruin, "Flee!" Providence has many a Jonathan to shoot the arrow and cry "Beyond."

III. It is REASONABLE THAT IN ALL TIMES OF DANGER WE SHOULD PROMPTLY ACT ON THE WARNING AT ANY COST. In David's case we see the reasonableness of his noting the sign, acting on its significance, even though in so doing it cost him the bitter pang of parting from the dearest friend of his life, and becoming a beggar and a fugitive. Only thus could he ultimately fulfil the end of his existence. It was reasonable, for Jonathan knew the danger to be real, and would not deceive. So in any case of our peril, whether of health, business, reputation, Christian profession, or future salvation, it is important at once to heed the voice of warning; for Providence never lies. It is a fact that many are ruined in spite of warning. The reason is, they either will not cultivate the habit of discerning the "signs of the times" in moral and spiritual matters (Matthew 16:3); or, discerning them, they fall under the delusion that somehow they shall escape, even though they remain as they are; or else they refuse to believe the signs. Many reject the testimony of the faithful Jonathan. They prefer their own speculations to the declared testimony of Christ (Revelation 1:18). Verily unbelief is folly, and those who pride themselves on reason are most unreasonable. It often costs much to act promptly on the voice of warning. We may not have to endure a separation from a holy friend as did David; but a temporary loss may be sustained of serious character. The ruin threatening from a man's entangled business affairs may be escaped by a prompt surrender of luxurious habits and home comforts. To save reputation friends may have to be abandoned. A soul can only be saved from death sometimes by a resolute plucking out of a right eye (Matthew 5:29). Lot lost all in Sodom but saved himself.

General lessons:

1. Knowing the perilous possibilities of life, let us go forward cautiously, yet quietly trusting in God.

2. Whenever it is in our power, let us prove ourselves friends by warning others of their material or spiritual dangers.

3. We should give careful heed to the first promptings of conscience, remembering that in moral questions the first motions of conscience are safest for action.

4. We may make a useful study of the partings of life—of, e.g; Lot and Abraham, Moses and Pharaoh, Paul and the Ephesians, Christ and his disciples.


1 Samuel 20:24-34. (GIBEAH)


"Saul's anger was kindled against Jonathan" (1 Samuel 20:30). "And Jonathan arose from the table in fierce anger" (1 Samuel 20:34). Anger is not necessarily sinful. "It is in itself, and in its original, no more than indignation against injury and wickedness" (Butler, on 'Resentment'). But it is too frequently sinful because of the manner in which it is indulged. How different was the anger of Saul now from what it was on a former occasion (1 Samuel 11:6). Consider that—

I. IT MAY BE UNINTENTIONALLY EXCITED (1 Samuel 20:24-29). The reason which Jonathan gave why "David's place was empty" was doubtless a mere pretext (1 Samuel 20:12), harmless as he thought, and not designed to provoke wrath; but Saul saw through it at once, and his anger was kindled against Jonathan on account of it and his taking part with one whom he regarded as his enemy. Care should be exercised, even when no harm is meant, to furnish no occasion for offence, especially in intercourse with those who are of an irritable and passionate temper, and to avoid "all appearance (every kind) of evil." Deception practised for a good end is not good, and sometimes produces much mischief.


1. When it springs from selfishness and pride, and is associated with malice and revenge. Saul's anger against Jonathan was the offspring of the envy toward "the son of Jesse" which slumbered in his breast, if indeed he had not now formed the deliberate purpose of putting him to death at the first opportunity. It is not said that "the evil spirit from Jehovah came upon him" again. Hatred of David had become the pervading spirit of his life, and it gave a colouring to everything. "Anger is an agitation of the mind that proceeds to the resolution of a revenge, the mind assenting to it" (Seneca, on 'Anger').

2. When it is felt without just or adequate cause. The questions of Jonathan (1 Samuel 20:32) did not, any more than the reason he had previously given, justify his father's wrath, and his jealousy of David was groundless and wicked. "Whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause," etc. (Matthew 5:22).

3. When it becomes excessive, and ceases to be under the control of right reason. "Be master of thine anger."

4. When it issues in bitter words, and violent and unjust acts. "Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer," etc. (1 John 3:15). He has within him the principle of murder, the germ from which the outward act naturally grows. "Cease from anger and forsake wrath" (Psalms 37:8). "Where envy and strife are there is confusion and every evil work" (James 3:16). "Sinful anger destroys our own peace of mind, hurts the unity of spirit among brethren, blocks up the way to the Divine throne, exposes us to danger, makes work for bitter repentance, fires the minds of others, makes us unlike the meek and lowly Jesus, causes us to resemble madmen and devils, and is cruel and murderous" (Fawcett, 'Essay on Anger'.).

III. IT CAN BE UNBLAMABLY ENTERTAINED (1 Samuel 20:34). It may in certain circumstances be a Christian virtue. But in order to this—

1. It must be directed, out of love to righteousness, against the wrong which is done or intended rather than against the wrong doer, and be associated with sorrow for him and good will toward him. "Resentment is not inconsistent with good will. These contrary passions, though they may lessen, do not necessarily destroy each other. We may therefore love our enemy and yet have resentment against him for his injurious behaviour toward us" (Butler, on 'Forgiveness of Injuries'). "And when he had looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts," etc. (Mark 3:5).

2. It must be felt from love to others rather than ourselves, especially to those who love God, and from zeal for his honour. "He was grieved for David, because his father had done him shame."

3. It must be kept under proper control. Jonathan did not retaliate. He "arose from the table," and went out; to fast, not to raise a rebellion against his father, as Absalom did at a subsequent period.

4. It must not be suffered to continue too long. "Wise anger is like fire from flint; there, is a great ado to bring it out; and when it does come, it is out again immediately (M. Henry). "Be ye angry and sin not; let not the sun go down upon your wrath, neither give place to the devil."

IV. IT MUST BE UNCEASINGLY GUARDED AGAINST and duly suppressed by the use of proper means, such as consideration of the effects of sinful anger on others and on ourselves, of the allowance which ought to be made for others, of our own faults, and of the patience and gentleness of Christ; the realisation of the presence and love of God; the cultivation of the opposite principles of humility, charity, and meekness; and continual prayer for the Holy Spirit.—D.

1 Samuel 20:35-40. (THE STONE EZEL.)

An obedient lad.

(A word to the young.) Prince Jonathan went out into the country, by the stone Ezel, to practise archery of his famous bow (2 Samuel 1:18, 2 Samuel 1:22), and took with him a lad, "a little lad" (1 Samuel 20:35), to carry his arrows and gather them up after they had been shot at the mark. This lad—

1. Had learnt a great lesson, the first and most important lesson of life—obedience. He was a young soldier, and had learnt a soldier's chief duty. "Children, obey your parents" (Ephesians 6:1). "Servants, obey your masters" (Colossians 3:22). "Obey" your teachers (Hebrews 13:17). "Obey magistrates" (Titus 3:1).

2. Had learnt his lesson well. He did what he was told to do willingly, cheerfully, quickly ("make speed, haste, stay not"), fully, "without asking any questions."

3. Was very useful to his master. Though but a little lad, he could be of service to a prince and great hero.

4. Did a greater service than he was aware of. He was seen by David from his hiding place in the rock, and was useful to him as well as to Jonathan. "And the lad knew not anything" (1 Samuel 20:39). In doing our duty One sees us whom we see not, and regards it as done to him.

5. Did not go unrewarded. He pleased his master, and would be more highly valued for this service and promoted to a higher position, for which it helped to prepare him.

6. Set a pattern of the kind of service we should render to God. "We ought to obey God" (Acts 5:29) above all. "Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth."—D.

1 Samuel 20:41. (THE STONE EZEL.)

The parting of friends.

Friends sometimes part because they cease to esteem each other. They also sometimes part not in feeling, but only in space; not willingly, but under the constraint of a higher necessity; and their separation is one of the most painful trials of life. Such was the parting of Jonathan and David. "This is the culminating point in the mutual relations of the two friends who furnish the eternal type of the perfection of noble friendship; and, moreover, in these last hours before their separation, all the threads of their destinies, henceforth so widely different, are secretly woven together. It is also at this point, consequently, that the clearest anticipation of the whole subsequent history already shines through. As Jonathan here foresees, David afterwards obtains the kingdom; and, in accordance with his oath to his friend, he afterwards, when a powerful king, always spares the descendants of Jonathan, in grateful remembrance of his dearly loved friend, and never loses an opportunity of showing them kindness" (Ewald). In their parting we observe—

I. COURTESY. David "fell on his face to the ground, and bowed himself three times." He did so not merely in external and courtier like obeisance to the prince, but also in heartfelt esteem and homage to the friend, who had shown his fidelity in a great crisis, virtually renounced the prospect of a kingdom for his sake and in obedience to what he saw to be the Divine purpose, and was worthy of the highest honour. True courtesy—

1. Has its seat in the heart, and expresses itself in appropriate speech and conduct in intercourse with others, according to the custom of the time and place and the relative position they occupy. The outward bearing of itself, is morally worthless. It may be superficial and hypocritical. Yet "courtesy of feeling is very much acquired and promoted by cultivating courtesy of manner. Gentleness of manner has some influence on gentleness of life."

2. Is the opposite of selfishness and pride (the chief causes of its absence); unsociableness, austerity, and moroseness; coldness, reserve, and neglect; contemptuous demeanour, rudeness, and undue familiarity. And it by no means implies obsequiousness or want of self-respect.

3. Consits of humility, benevolent regard for others, kindly consideration for their feelings even in little things, gentleness, and frankness.

4. Is attended with many advantages; commended by the examples recorded in the word of God, and enjoined by its precepts (Genesis 23:12; Luke 7:44; Acts 28:7; Philemon). "Whatsoever things are lovely," etc. (Philippians 4:8). "Be courteous" (1 Peter 3:8).

II. TENDERNESS. "And they kissed one another, and wept with one another, until David exceeded" (LXX; "wept one with another with great lamentation"). The tenderness of their affection and grief was "wonderful." Something of the same tenderness—

1. Is commonly possessed by men of a brave and noble type of character. "There is in David (as there is said to be in all great geniuses) a feminine as well as a masculine vein; a passionate tenderness, a keen sensibility, a vast capacity of sympathy, sadness, and suffering which makes him truly a type of the Man of sorrows" (Kingsley).

2. Is revealed in them by special circumstances, and is in such circumstances worthy of them.

3. Is shown in sympathy with the trouble of others, rather than in grief occasioned by the deprivation of their friendship and aid. The loss which David and Jonathan were each about to suffer by the separation was great; but they were chiefly affected by the thought of the trouble which awaited each other: the one to become an outlaw and to be pursued with relentless malice; the other to bear the frowns of his royal father, and witness his ruinous career, without any consolation but that derived from the prospect of a better time under the rule of his chosen friend.

4. Appears in the restraint which is put upon the indulgence of personal feeling, from concern for others' welfare. The interview might not be prolonged. There was danger in delay. And Jonathan hastened the departure of his friend, saying, "Go in peace." Equal tenderness appears in none save those whose hearts are softened and pervaded by Divine grace (Acts 20:37, Acts 20:38; Acts 21:13), or in "the Friend of sinners."

III. PIETY. "Go in peace, forasmuch," etc. Their souls were "knit" to God before they were knit to each other; the one was the cause of the other; their covenant was made "in the name of Jehovah," and he would still be with them when they parted. The piety which is possessed in common alleviates and sanctifies the grief occasioned by the separation of friends. It appears in—

1. The fellowship which is held with the eternal Friend and abides amidst all earthly changes.

2. Submission to his sovereign will, which appoints the lot of each and all (Acts 21:13).

3. Faith in his overruling power and goodness, according to which "all things work together for good"—the welfare of his people, the establishment of his kingdom.

4. The wish and prayer for his continued presence and blessing. In him parted friends may still meet, continue of "one heart and one soul," and obtain by their prayers invaluable benefits for one another.

IV. HOPEFULNESS. They did not part without the hope of meeting again in this life (which was fulfilled—1 Samuel 23:16), and doubtless also in the eternal home to which God gathers his people. "Let it be considered what a melancholy thing any friendship would be that should be destined to expire with all its pleasures and advantages at death. That is the worthy and happy friendship, and that alone, where the parties are zealously preparing and have a good hope to meet in a nobler scene" (J. Foster). The friendship which is formed and cherished in God is not dissolved by death, but is renewed in "a life beyond life," and perpetuated forever.

"As for my friends, they are not lost;

The several vessels of thy fleet,

Though parted now, by tempest tossed,

Shall safely in the haven meet."—D.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 20". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tpc/1-samuel-20.html. 1897.
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